THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

SOS Darfur!

A meeting in Paris of hard core activists of Urgence Darfour, who have spent years trying to alert public opinion of the horrific massacres perpetrated by the Islamist regime of Khartoum.

The atmosphere is less than jolly.

One could even qualify it as downright gloomy.

For what have we done, all these years?

What, in particular, have we done since the big rally we -- those actually present -- organized at the Mutualité at the outset of the 2007 presidential campaign? Since this huge demonstration, almost three years ago, intended to pressure the main candidates to take a decisive stand, what have we gained, in concrete terms?

Bernard Kouchner was with us that evening. He gave one of those resonant, impassioned and, moreover, down-to-earth speeches that were his trademark at the time. Elevated to head of French diplomacy, what happened to that talent that was his alone? What became of his anger, so beautiful and so sound?

Nicolas Sarkozy was not present; in his stead he had sent Nicole Guedj to sign, in his name and with a flourish, a "charter" inviting the next President of the Republic, whoever he might be, to take the appropriate diplomatic, political, and financial measures of retaliation against the assassins. Once elected, what became of his promise? What happened to his resolution to be the first President of the Republic to make human rights an integral part of France's foreign policy with regard to Darfur? Does he even remember the text he signed by proxy?

I took the floor myself to describe what I had seen working with photographer Alexis Duclos on a story that took us all the way to the regions of Bir Mezza and Jebel Marra. But just before that, I read a letter from then-President Jacques Chirac, pledging that France would act to urge international justice to address the case of Al Bachir and treat it with the all the rigor called for. That, at least, has been done. The International Criminal Court has indicted Al Bachir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. But ten months later, who cares? Who is contemplating taking note of the fact? Where are the "accompanying measures" to prevent this indictment from remaining a dead letter?

So, on the morning after this meeting that has left us all with a sour taste of the bitter and morose, we face two possibilities.

Either each of us gets hold of himself. Bernard Kouchner remembers he is Bernard Kouchner. Nicolas Sarkozy honors his signature. We ourselves, intellectuals and activists, return with our American friends to the task of convincing the international community to see to it that the ICC's decision takes effect. And that Al Bachir is at least hampered in his attempts to travel freely, if not arrested, his financial assets at least frozen, if not seized. In sum, that the word of States and of the justice they should defend regain a minimum of credibility. Then perhaps we shall have a slim chance, a very slim chance, of saving those of the Darfouri who can still be saved.

Or else we do nothing. We wash our hands of the hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless dead, who have no graves and whose actual numbers we cannot know, already massacred by the Janjaweed and their scorched earth policy. And better still, we condemn to a slow agony the last survivors who have been able to gather in the zones controlled by Abdul Wahid al Nur and the fighters of his Sudan Liberation Movement. In this case, it is preferable to make things very clear.

  1. We will have allowed the first mass massacre, perhaps the first genocide of the 21st century, to reach its conclusion. Never again. Really? What a joke!.
  2. We will have sent Al Bachir the very worst of all signals, if not actually encouraged him, and this on the eve of general elections planned throughout Sudan for April. This is also, and more important, the eve of the referendum on self-determination which is to take place in the animist and Christian provinces of the South early in 2011. I am also slightly familiar with the other war, that of the North against the South, having covered it as well nine years ago in the times of John Garang. And I'm willing to bet that other war, one that was even more atrocious in that it counted over a million and a half dead in 2005, at the time of the Nairobi Accords, will spark, almost inevitably, into life again.
  3. And so, there's no longer any point in talking about the war against fanaticism, a law prohibiting burqas, or the defense of moderate Islam. The incarnation of moderate Islam was there before us, an example of Islam without burqas, without the Sharia, where boys and girls attended the same village schools together. I saw it with my own eyes. This miracle we pretend to wish for so fervently, this living proof that a non-fundamentalist Islamic society is apparently possible, and that a party like al Nur's can combine Islam and citizenship without difficulty, was within reach, and we will have let it die.

It is 2010. And I realize that I'm talking about Darfur the same way I spoke of martyred Bosnia, fifteen years ago. I'm afraid so. Same causes, same effects. And the same disaster that goes on and on. Unless --

I'll come back to this.